Ranking well for competitive keywords is incredibly tough for the average small business. That's why more specific and less competitive keywords can make a huge difference. For many, long-tail keywords (in aggregate) add up to the majority of their website's search-driven traffic.
(If you aren't familiar, "head" terms are more popular and more frequently searched: like "road bike." Long-tail keywords are longer and more specific: "aluminum vs carbon frame road bike.")
A long-tail keyword could be the title and topic for a highly targeted blog post or article (or video or infographic or other content.) Or a long-tail keyword could be used to further optimize a longer article or guide that targets one primary keyword.
And if you're running pay-per-click (PPC) ads, long-tail keywords are usually a lot less expensive.
The key, of course, is to identify the best long-tail keywords for your business, so I asked Elisa Gabbert, a Content Manager at the PPC and search engine marketing company WordStream, for tips:
1. Use Google Suggest
Google Suggestions can be a great source of long-tail keyword variations. Simply start typing your primary keyword into the Google search box and check out the variations Google suggests.
Longer-tail keywords that Google suggests are phrases people actually search for. You may not want to use them all but you will get a great indication of which search terms are popular. You'll definitely uncover some surprising combinations.
2. Use Google Related Searches
The same principle applies as with Google Suggest; Related Searches appear at the bottom of the search engine result page, below the last organic result.
Keep in mind the suggestions may be somewhat personalized for your geographic location.
3. Use a Variety of Keyword Research Tools
If you only use one keyword tool every time you do keyword research, you're selling yourself short and probably missing out on tons of long-tail keyword variations. The Google Keyword Tool is a great basic tool and a good place to start, but if you're looking for more long-tail keywords, try these other options too:
The more keyword tools you consult the more long-tail keyword variations you're likely to find.
4. Dig into Your Analytics
Your analytics will tell you many, if not all, the keyword phrases that lead visitors to your website. By digging through those keyword referrers you'll find a number of long-tail queries that are already driving traffic.
Those keywords may be relevant to your business but not yet highly targeted by a single page on your site. For example, a few years ago Wordstream found that a lot of people wound up on its site by searching the phrase "what's a good click through rate." At the time, the company didn't have a page with that title--so the team wrote one and now it drives tons of traffic.
To find your own private store of long-tail keywords, go into your analytics and locate your organic keyword referrals (in Google Analytics, the path is Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Search -> Organic).
You can scan all the terms for good, relevant long-tail keywords you can turn into content or you can set the time frame to something fairly broad (depending on your traffic flow, try a three-, six-, or 12-month period.) Then search for patterns. For example, you might search for question keywords (like terms that begin with "what," "why," etc.)
5. Dig into Your Search Query Reports
If you're running a PPC campaign in AdWords, don't forget to use your Search Query Report the same way you use your analytics. The Search Query Report shows the search queries that drove people to click on your ads rather than your organic search results.
As an added bonus, you get more comprehensive access to this data than you do with organic referrers in Google Analytics.
It also may be easier to see which keywords are driving conversions and not just traffic. High-converting long-tail keywords are especially worth chasing.
6. Browse eHow
Sites like eHow are basically fueled by keyword research--primarily long-tail keyword research. They use powerful algorithms to find long-tail keywords they can rank for with hyper-targeted content.
You might not have their data sources or content algorithms on your side, but you can still learn from their methodology.
Take a look around: If eHow is targeting a keyword phrase you can bet it has search volume and advertisers interested in buying placement on those pages.
Another good bet? Whatever they produced to target those keywords is generally lame. The content eHow churns out tends to be thin--and it's precisely the kind of content that post-Panda Google no longer favors.
If you create strong content with real value that is also hyper-targeted you have a good chance of eventually outranking the content farms.
7. Browse Wikipedia
Is Wikipedia the most optimized site on the Internet? It's definitely up there. That means you can learn a lot by copying Wikipedia's on-page optimization.
When doing research around a base term, try checking the Wikipedia page. For example, look at the table of contents for a fairly broad term; say, "horse racing."
Check out the Contents box. Many of the headings translate into long-tail keywords: "history of horse racing," "history of thoroughbred horse racing," "types of horse racing betting," etc.
You can also do a page search for your primary keyword to see variations that appear throughout the text. And the "See also" section at the bottom of many Wikipedia articles can help you find clusters of related terms.
8. Borrow From Your Competition
Start with head and mid-tail terms that you want to rank for, then see what keyword variations are used on the pages that rank in the top five to 10 spots.
For example, say the head keyword you're chasing is "gift baskets." It's no surprise that the page that ranks first for that head keyword is filled with "gift basket" combinations. You may not be able to beat them with the head or mid-tail term, but the longer-tail versions could definitely be up for grabs.